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When thinking of the preeminent trombone players in today’s jazz scene, artist Steve Turre goes right to the top. The longevity of his career, in combination with the accolades he has received along the way, is remarkable to consider. Turre’s success is a testament to his propensity for creating new and interesting styles while remaining loyal to his musical roots.
Interestingly, Turre’s first instrument of choice was violin. His father convinced his son to pick a horn instead, and for this, we all are indebted to him. Born in1948, Steve grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and picked up the trombone when he was ten years old. He played all through out his early teens and into High School. His first band experience was with the Escovedo Salsa band, which cemented his interest in the Latin/Salsa music of his Mexican-American heritage.
His career truly took off in 1968 when he played local gigs with his friend and mentor Rahsaan Roland Kirk. It was Kirk that first introduced Turre to conch shells as instruments, which can be carefully cut and tuned to specific pitches to form a type of lip-reed instrument. Turre formed a group of conch players in the 1990s and produced an album titled “Sanctified Shells” in 1993. Since then, he has been recognized as one of the premier conch players today.
Steve Turre’s more popular success was as a jazz trombonist. After working with Rahsaan for part time gigs in the area, Turre auditioned and played for Ray Charles during his tour in 1972. The very next year, he met with Woody Shaw, an accomplished trumpet player in his own right, and Shaw introduced him to Art Blakely, the leader of a bebop jazz group, the Jazz Messengers. Turre was invited to join the group and packed his bags for the Big Apple.
After working with the Jazz Messengers for a few years, Steve joined the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra, a Big Band based out of New York City, on their tour of Europe in 1978. The Orchestra was a mix of swing and slow bebop jazz and further molded Steve Turre’s unique style as a trombonist. After stints with Woody Shaw’s Concert Ensemble, Turre joined Slide Hampton and The World of Trombones, a group of nine trombonists broken up into two groups of four and then with Slide as the lead.
After working with Slide, Turre joined Woody Shaw’s popular jazz quintet. Turre’s inclusion in the quintet turned heads in the jazz community, because it was one of the few quintets to feature trumpet/trombone leads, instead of the common trumpet/saxophone leads. The quintet was loved by audiences for its engaging, fresh sound, yet ignored by most club owners for being too far from mainstream saxophone-heavy jazz of the time.
Turre’s final big influence was Dizzie Gillespie, the accomplished bebop trumpeter and composer. Turre worked small venues with Dizzie at first and moved on to bigger bands later, such as the United Nation big band. Working with Dizzie was a monumental step in Turre’s career, as Dizzie exposed Turre to many new and interesting arrangements.
Turre has incorporated sounds from Dizzie and many other mentors and his rich musical background shows in the albums he has composed. Steve Turre’s latest album, titled Woody’s Delight (2012), is a tribute to the late Woody Shaw, and includes 8 songs written by Shaw, re-mastered, and played by Turre and his jazz ensemble. Another notable album of Steve Turre was Rainbow People (2008), which featured prominent musicians in various ensembles playing modern Jazz composition. Those of note on the album include Ignacio Berroa (drummer), Kenny Garret (saxophone), and Peter Washington (bassist), all of whom had played with Turre at prior points in their careers.
Turre was of Mexican-American descent and his ancestry has been an important influence on him throughout his career. He often played a mix of Latin-American Jazz.
As a studio musician, Turre is among the most prolific living jazz trombonist in the world.As a member of a television orchestra, this is Turre's twenty-ninth year as trombonist with the Saturday Night Live Band. Turre has taught jazz trombone at the Manhattan School of Music since 1988.
“A musician's like a doctor, you're supposed to heal people. You make them feel better. As long as I can keep doing that, I'm a happy man.” - Steve Turre